Magic Beat Knicks, Earn Playoff Berth

Wednesday, April 10th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Patrick Ewing got a rare start, made the game's first basket and went out a winner in what might have been his final game at Madison Square Garden.

With his coach predicting that he will retire at the end of the season, Ewing won the opening tip, played more minutes than usual and returned for the final 55 seconds of a blowout victory as the Orlando Magic clinched a playoff berth with a 108-97 victory Tuesday night over the New York Knicks.

``I could be completely wrong. I'm not basing it on any scientific fact, but my gut tells me that this could be his last game here at the Garden,'' said Orlando coach Doc Rivers, who gave Ewing his first start since Jan. 5 in the arena where he toiled for 15 years as the starting center for the Knicks.

Ewing, who finished with 6 points, still has a chance to win the title that has eluded him throughout his 17-year career, while his former team and their fans are getting ready to begin their earliest offseason in 15 years.

Orlando won for the fifth time in six games and snapped a three-game road losing streak, moving two games ahead of the Charlotte Hornets in the race fore fourth place in the East and homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Troy Hudson led the Magic with 29 points, scoring 15 in the second quarter. Horace Grant hit his first eight shots and finished 11-for-13 from the field for 22 points, and Tracy McGrady scored 14 of his 19 points in the third quarter when the Magic turned the game into a rout.

Orlando shot 57 percent from the field, improving to 18-0 when shooting 50 percent or better.

Allan Houston scored 26 and Kurt Thomas had 23 for the Knicks.

The Garden was less than half-empty when Ewing was introduced last among the Orlando starters. He received a standing ovation that lasted almost 30 seconds.

Ewing hit his first shot, a 17-footer from right of the key, then hit a similar shot to give Orlando an 8-6 lead. The Magic never trailed from that point on.

Grant hit a 17-footer early in the third to give the Magic their first double-digit lead at 64-53, and McGrady hit a turnaround from the corner with 5:05 left in the third for Orlando's first 20-point lead at 76-55.

The Knicks got no closer than nine in the fourth as the fans chanted Ewing's name and he acknowledged them with a wave of his hand.

Ewing checked back in and played the final 55 seconds, the fans on their feet throughout. With Ewing trying to wave the play off, the Magic got him the ball in the low post on their final possession. Ewing turned and fired up a 15-footer that went in and out.